Counseling Services for Special Education Students

By Nichter, Mary; Edmonson, Stacey L. | Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

Counseling Services for Special Education Students


Nichter, Mary, Edmonson, Stacey L., Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research


School counselors have been providing services to an increasing number of special education students, especially since the passage of Public Law 94-142 and other laws mandating equitable education opportunities for all students including those with special needs. This research was conducted to identify services that general education counselors currently provide to special education students, to assess participants' perception of preparedness to counsel special needs students, and to identify experiences contributing to the level of preparedness.

Counseling Services for Special Education Students

The role of the school counselor in public education has evolved dramatically over time (Burnham & Jackson, 2000). The job description and function of the school counselor typically changes as the concerns and influences of society change (Gibson, 1990). In the Introduction of School Counseling New Perspectives and Practices (Allen, 1998), Norm Gysbers described a changing world with many complex social, economic, and legislative changes that create challenges for society in general but particularly for schools, students, parents and communities. Baker (2000) stated that legislative changes aimed at helping those who are "less equal" has been part of the social action legacy that changed counselors' roles (p. 47 ). In the school setting, less equal refers to students requiring intervention to secure equal educational opportunity. Special needs students make up part of the population on school campuses Baker referred to as less equal. The role of the school counselor has been modified to help meet the various needs of this population of students identified as special needs students.

Special needs students are those who require modifications, accommodations, personalized assistance, or other support services to succeed in their educational programs. Professional school counselors have increasingly important roles in working with special needs students (Milsom, 2002). With the passage of Public Law 94-142 (the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975), legislation from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (1997), schools are mandated to provide equitable education opportunities for all students, including those with special needs.

The Position Statement: Special Needs of Students offered by the American School Counseling Association (ASCA, 1999) clearly supports the inclusion of special needs students in the population served by the profession school counselor.

Professional school counselors encourage and support the academic, social emotional and career development of all students through counseling programs within the schools. They are committed to helping all students realize their full potential despite cognitive, emotional, medical, behavioral, physical, or social disabilities. (p. 36)

ASCA's position statement described the school counselor's responsibility of ensuring that the needs, including the special needs, of all students are met. Some students' needs are met by participation in a school's comprehensive guidance and counseling program. The National Standards for School Counseling Programs, developed by ASCA in 1997, are statements of what this professional organization believes to be the essential elements of a quality and effective school counseling program designed for all students. The standards reflect ASCA's position that effective school counseling programs ensure that all students have equal access to quality academic programs. Further, all students must be provided necessary support in academic, career, and personal and social development to help them achieve their education goals (Campbell & Dahir, 1997).

The inclusion of special education students into the population served by the general education counselor has been the standard practice for 49 of the 50 states. According to the most current edition of the Manual on the Preparation and Certification of Educational Personnel, published in 2002 by the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification, Texas is listed as the only state to offer a certification option for special education counselors.

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